Sending Christmas cards is one of those holiday traditions that people either don’t think about or think about a bit too much. Whether it’s sitting your kids down to write out a card for every classmate or collecting up your received cards to slot into a festive cardholder.
Most Christmas cards are made or printed on card or paper, so surely they’re fairly eco-friendly? You can compost paper, after all!
Is it environmentally friendly to send Christmas cards?
It isn’t environmentally friendly to send Christmas cards because of the materials and travel emissions used to send them.
The average person in the UK will send and receive around 17 Christmas cards a year, with the Royal Mail delivering 150 million cards during the Christmas period. This doesn’t account for other delivery methods, like greetings card suppliers.
One tree can make up to 3000 cards, so at least 50000 trees are cut down to provide those 150 million cards each year.
It’s unknown how many surplus cards end up leftover from stores across the world. It’s also unknown how many Christmas cards are put into recycling – as long as they don’t have foil or glitter on they can be safely recycled in household recycling bins.
Some charities, including wildlife charities like the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and WWF, sell Christmas cards to help fund their conservation efforts. Purchasing these cards is more environmentally friendly than other commercial choices because the money goes to charity.
What is the carbon footprint of a Christmas card?
A study by the University of Exeter estimates that the carbon footprint of a greeting card is 140 grams, provided it uses recycled paper and is recycled within the UK.
A greetings card printed on non-recycled paper and posted in the USA without being recycled measures more than 200 grams of carbon dioxide emissions.
They identified four main parts in a greetings card lifecycle: paper production, printing, postage, and decomposition.
Recycled paper and card are approximately half as energy-intensive to produce compared to virgin materials, and the pulp and paper manufacturing industry uses a lot of water and energy. They also discharge carbon dioxide, nitrous oxides, and sulfur oxides emissions into the air and water.
The printing industry further adds greenhouse gas emissions, and the ink used is largely synthetic and potentially damaging to the environment.
Posting greetings cards contributes to transport emissions, with many cards transported by vans, trains, and planes.
Around 33% of all paper in the UK isn’t recycled, resulting in many greetings cards contributing to methane emissions in landfills. Approximately 32% of paper isn’t recycled in the US.
Are there sustainable ways to send Christmas cards?
If greetings cards are a big part of your Christmas traditions or a must in your community, there are ways to reduce their environmental impact.
When you go to send cards, leave off the stamps and get your envelope ink stamped instead. Stamps are a form of plastic waste.
The principles of reducing, reusing, recycling also apply to Christmas cards. Make sure to:
- Reduce the number of cards you buy
- Reduce the number of people on your Christmas card list
- Reuse old Christmas cards
- Recycle (or compost) every card you’re not keeping
By reducing the number of cards you buy and the number of people on your Christmas card list, you won’t end up with a surplus of Christmas cards.
Prioritize people who you will see over the holidays and can deliver cards to on visits, at parties, or who are just a walk away.
Alternatively, you could just wish people you see regularly a happy holiday and only send cards to people you won’t see over the holidays.
When buying cards, make sure to make sustainable choices.
Glitter, ribbons, shiny paper, and photographs can’t be recycled, so avoid these where necessary.
By only purchasing recyclable cards, you ensure that as much of them can be recycled as possible.
Where possible, try to buy cards made from recycled paper
If you want to send a festive photo to friends, why not make it a Christmas gift or send it electronically?
Eco-friendly alternatives to Christmas cards
When it comes to choosing cards, shop for greetings cards from charities directly so you can support them with all your money. Buying charity cards from other stores means that that store then gets a cut.
You can buy cards made from seed paper for a fun and even more eco-friendly alternative. Seed paper is made with seeds that can germinate after being planted in a pot of dirt. While the card disintegrates, the seed can grow flowers, vegetables, or herbs.
Alternatively, you can buy handmade cards from local small businesses.
Unlike the larger card industry, small businesses usually use more sustainable practices, and you can ask them directly how eco-friendly their cards are. You can find many eco Christmas cards on Etsy, which also offsets all delivery and packaging carbon emissions.
An even better choice would be to send e-cards.
E-cards are electronic cards that you can send with a link. You can even have multiple people sign them. Some people may find e-cards to be less personal, but their big advantage is in how eco-friendly they are.
DontSendMeACard.com has a range of charity Christmas ecards to choose from and you can pick which charity to support!
- Use no materials, so there are no production emissions
- Are delivered online, so there are no transport emissions
- Don’t need to be recycled or thrown away
Electronic emissions are still present with e-cards, but their impact is far less than producing a physical card. You can also attach photographs to e-cards.
If e-cards don’t feel personal enough for you, why not forgo the card entirely and instead buy or make a small edible treat? You can also send personalized texts or emails to long-distance friends and family instead.
You could also make your own Christmas cards with recycled paper. By delivering them in person, especially if you’re already going to meet up with the recipient, you can reduce the impact of your Christmas cards greatly.
How to make sustainable Christmas cards
You’ve probably made Christmas cards in the past, especially at school.
There are ways to spruce up cards to make them a bit more appealing and personalized while remaining eco-friendly. For instance by reusing Christmas cards you’ve been sent (though maybe avoid sending them to who signed it originally!).
Patterned Christmas cards can be cut in half and then folded to make a smaller card, allowing you to reuse half of the card and recycle or keep the rest.
If you have leftover cards from the past, try cutting up patterned cards or even cutting out the main illustration to glue to some recycled card. This is the best way to reuse cards that have glitter or foil on them.
Anybody crafty will benefit from hosting a craft party with friends or family. By combining your stock of crafts, you can make a day of designing personalized cards. This also means you control what happens to the offcuts, as you can make the most of them.
Here are some DIY Christmas card ideas: